Geneva: The World Health Organisation has ruled that the term ‘counterfeit’ can be used only for protection of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR), and not as a descriptor for low-cost generic medicines. Instead, the word ‘falsified’ can be used for medicines of lower quality.
In July this year, EU’s instruction to its 28 member countries to withdraw nearly 700 Indian-made generic drugs escalated into a deadlock at the European Union Free Trade Agreement (EU FTA). This move came in a series of earlier actions aimed at blocking imports from several Indian manufacturers, resulting in increased tension between India and the West over the pharmaceuticals industry. While branded Western drugmakers have accused India of violating their intellectual property rights, Indian activists have labelled counter-allegations that Western, big-brand, pharmaceutical companies defend questionable patents which inflate prices and make those medicines unavailable to the poor.
Leena Menghaney, South Asia head of humanitarian aid organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), said, “This decision by the WHO settles a long-standing battle about labelling of drugs. For far too long, genuine generic medicines have been labelled as counterfeit. The confusion had taken away the much needed attention from the substandard medicines, which is a bigger public health problem for developing countries.”
The decision was taken by a technical working group of WHO which fixes working definitions of terms like substandard/spurious /falsely-labelled/falsified/counterfeit in the domain of medical products. As per international law, the term ‘counterfeit’ is used specifically to described willful infringement of trademark for commercial activities.
This is being hailed as a significant victory by activists working for global access of cheaper medicines.